When I encounter an oncoming funeral procession coming the opposite direction, do I need to stop on the right shoulder of the road until the procession is past? – Keith, Calgary
You don’t legally have to pull over for cars on their mourning commute – but it’s the kind thing to do, Calgary Police say.
“The safest and most respectful thing to do is to just slow down and pull over, and when it’s safe to do so, to let them through,” says Constable Jason Taylor of Calgary Police’s traffic section. “They’re in a grieving situation and they don’t need to deal with people honking or saying things to them.”
While some funeral homes ask family members to just meet at the cemetery, traditionally, family members drive to the cemetery in a line behind the hearse.
The lead car in the procession usually has a purple flashing light, but you’re not required to slow down or pull over, like you do when there’s an emergency vehicle with its siren on, Taylor says.
In Alberta, there’s only one rule for driving around funeral processions – you can’t cut in between the cars.
Section 88 of Alberta’s Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation states that a driver can’t “break through the ranks” of a funeral procession or parade.
“It does happen, but I think it’s usually a matter of education,” Taylor says. “People don’t know the rules.”
The rules vary for the rest of Canada, although no province specifically requires you to pull over.
“The other drivers, in most cases, aren’t required to make special concessions other than courtesy and respect,” says Jayson Gordon, a funeral director and the British Columbia representative for the Funeral Services Association of Canada (FSAC). “Prince Edward Island is the one that doesn’t allow passing.”
In PEI, you can’t pass a procession and you’re also required to slow down to half the posted speed limit when there’s a procession on the road.
Drivers there traditionally pull over, but it’s not required.
In Ontario, there are no special rules for how drivers should behave around funeral processions, other than following the rules of the road.
But pulling over isn’t a bad idea – as long as you’re not just suddenly stopping in the middle of the road.
“It’s a sign of respect,” said Kerry Schmidt, a sergeant with Ontario Provincial Police highway safety division, in an e-mail.
Special privileges for processions?
As for the cars in the procession, the rules vary by province.
In Alberta, for example, the law says that a car in a procession can follow the hearse through an intersection without stopping.
But that’s only if it’s safe, if the car has its hazard lights on and if “the vehicle is travelling immediately behind the vehicle in front of it in the funeral procession so as to form a continuous line of traffic,” according to section 88.
It’s the same in Quebec, where the lead car can “go through a red light at a very low speed” as long as it’s safe, according to Captain Paul Leduc, a spokesman for the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police force.
“But they don’t get the right of way,” Leduc says. “If it’s a busy intersection, we’ll have police there to assist them.”
In Ontario, funeral processions don’t get any special exemptions to traffic laws.
“Purple flashing lights are “courtesy lights” in that they have no special privileges associated with their use other than the hope that other motorists will give them the right of way,” said Courtney Anderson, spokeswoman for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) in an e-mail.
While impatient drivers occasionally give funeral processions grief on the road, thankfully, it’s relatively rare, the FSAC’s Gordon says.
“Sometimes they may not know it’s a procession, so you get the odd situation of somebody honking or trying to pass,” Gordon says. “But for the most part, it’s pretty respectful.”
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